The Irony of Bartolo Colon, AL Cy Young Winner

Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution

November 15, 2005

 

So, here I am mired in the reality of my Cy Young picks. I steadfastly picked Bartolo Colon to win the Cy Young in both 2003 and 2004, only to give up on him this year and see him finally take the trophy.

 

I decided to check out his stats to determine how it was I was going to argue that he actually sucked this season, and his finally winning the Cy Young was a result of a thinned out field. I clicked over to his page at baseballreference.com, and one statistic jumped right off the page Bartolo Colon gave up the exact same number of hits this season as he did last season!

 

With any other pitcher, this would be a neat coincidence, but its significance can not be overstated in Colon's case, because of what a dramatic improvement he made this season overall. Remember, his ERA went from over 5.00 to under 3.50.

 

See, hits (the theory goes) are a defense based statistic the better the defense, the less likely you are to give up hits. Walks and homers, on the other hand, are pitcher based statistics with a few rare exceptions, the only person controlling whether a pitcher gives up a home run or a walk is the pitcher.

 

So, what is the meaning of it all? Well, the part of Colon's game which depends on the players around him went completely unchanged this season, while the elements of his game for which he is virtually solely responsible improved dramatically. Colon walked reduced his walks by 40% (71 vs. 43) and he gave up 12 fewer home runs (38 vs. 26). Which means that Colon's improvement this season, at least on the surface, may have been almost completely his own doing!

 

Nevertheless, I do believe that the American League should be ashamed of itself, or at least the BBWAA voters should be ashamed of themselves. That the best the AL could muster for a Cy Young winner was a pitcher who went 21-8 with a 3.48 record and a 3.65 K/BB ratio (157/43). Compare that to last year, when the AL Cy Young went to a guy with a 20-6 record, 2.61 ERA, and 4.91 K/BB (265/54).

 

In fact, Colon had the fewest strikeouts of an AL Cy Young winner (relievers and non-strike seasons excepted) since Bob Welch in 1990. Welch, of course, had 27 wins and an ERA in the twos that year, which can make people overlook a low strikeout total.

 

Colon also had the worst ERA+ of an AL Cy Young winner since the LaMarr Hoyt/Pete Vuckovich Disaster of 1982-1983. Other than those two guys, who don't really count, one would have to go back to Jim Lonborg in 1967 to get an ERA+ worse than Bartolo's 120 this season.

 

By now, of course, you all realize what statistic you don't have to go back in time to compare Colon to wins. Colon had a reputable 21 wins this season. In fact, he was the American League's only 20 game winner. So, we see what happened, right? ERA, ERA+, strikeouts and K/BB ratio all go out the window when there is only one 20 game winner. No evidence indicating that the only pitcher with 20 wins was not actually the best pitcher in the league will suffice. But just to make sure, lets make sure that Colon was not in fact the best pitcher in the league according to these other silly statistics:

 

 

 

W

L

Win%

IP

K

BB

K/BB

ERA

ERA+

Bartolo

Colon

21

8

0.724

222.7

157

43

3.65

3.48

120

Johan

Santana

16

7

0.696

231.7

238

45

5.29

2.87

153

Kevin

Millwood

9

11

0.450

192

146

52

2.81

2.86

143

Mark

Buehrle

16

8

0.667

236.7

149

40

3.73

3.12

143

Carlos

Silva

9

8

0.529

188.3

71

9

7.89

3.44

128

Jon

Garland

18

10

0.643

221

115

47

2.45

3.50

127

Cliff

Lee

18

5

0.783

202

143

52

2.75

3.79

108

Roy

Halladay

12

4

0.750

141.7

108

18

6.00

2.41

184

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nope, he wasn't. Actually, from where I stand, I would have taken Johan Santana, no doubt about it, and I almost certainly would have taken Mark Buehrle before Colon as well.

 

Now, don't get me wrong maybe 21 wins, in this day and age, is a significant accomplishment, and he did in fact deserve the Cy Young for it. But, if that is the case, then answer me this: If wins are so incredibly important, and such a determining factor to whether a pitcher was good or not, and is the primary reason Colon won the 2005 AL Cy Young, how does one explain the fact that last year Colon had an ERA in the fives, gave up 38 homeruns, and walked 71 batters in 208 innings and still managed to win 18 games, only three less than this year?

 

It would almost appear as though wins are not a significant indicator of success as a pitcher at all.